Just the two of us: 1 in 4 couples opt to never have kids — and are just as happy

EAST LANSING, Mich. — Parenthood is typically the next step in a relationship after making a commitment to that special someone. Surprisingly, though, a new study finds over a quarter of modern adults have no interest in having kids at all. Despite this growing trend towards “child-free” relationships, researchers from Michigan State University find these grown-ups are still just as happy and satisfied as their peers who have children.

It’s becoming more and more common in recent years for young adults to acknowledge and even embrace the fact that they don’t want to become parents. So, study authors set out to better understand the characteristics and levels of life satisfaction among adults who don’t want children. To start, researchers stress the importance of separating “child-free” individuals and “non-parents.”

“Most studies haven’t asked the questions necessary to distinguish ‘child-free’ individuals — those who choose not to have children — from other types of non-parents,” says study co-author Jennifer Watling Neal, an associate professor in MSU’s department of psychology, in a university release. “Non-parents can also include the ‘not-yet-parents’ who are planning to have kids, and ‘childless’ people who couldn’t have kids due to infertility or circumstance. Previous studies simply lumped all non-parents into a single category to compare them to parents.”

Child-free adults are usually liberals?

Working with a representative sample of 1,000 adults who completed MSU’s State of the State Survey, the team used a specialized approach centered on three distinct questions to differentiate between parents, non-parents, and child-free individuals.

“After controlling for demographic characteristics, we found no differences in life satisfaction and limited differences in personality traits between child-free individuals and parents, not-yet-parents, or childless individuals,” adds study co-author Zachary Neal. “We also found that child-free individuals were more liberal than parents, and that people who aren’t child-free felt substantially less warm toward child-free individuals.”

Study authors admit the amount of people who don’t want children identified during the analysis is surprising even to them.

“We were most surprised by how many child-free people there are,” Prof. Watling Neal explains. “We found that more than one in four people in Michigan identified as child-free, which is much higher than the estimated prevalence rate in previous studies that relied on fertility to identify child-free individuals. These previous studies placed the rate at only 2% to 9%. We think our improved measurement may have been able to better capture individuals who identify as child-free.”

The subject of parenthood and choosing to become a parent is of course a complex topic. As such, study authors say they’ll need to do more research on these matters moving forward. For instance, these findings are based solely on a single survey conducted at one point in time. Future studies can expand on this work by focusing on the specific reasons and factors that motivate people to go child-free.

The study is published in the journal Plos ONE.

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